The privatization of Youngstown’s public schools

HarpersWeb-Postcard-Belfast-220Simon David-Cohen at Harper's Magazine:

The story of the takeover of the elected school board starts in September 2014, when, as one local newspaper reported, John Kasich started “to talk with business leaders and develop recommendations for improving the [failing] district.” Later that month, Kasich told freshman legislators in a closed-door orientation meeting in a back room at the state capitol that the Youngstown “school system is in such a mess, I want to just shut it down and put one great big charter school in there,” according to Youngstown state representative Michele Lepore-Hagan. “Everyone,” Lepore-Hagan told me over the phone, “kind of just stopped and looked at him,” in disbelief. (When asked for a comment, a governor spokesperson pointed me to an article that denied the statement: “When [Kasich] talked to Lepore-Hagan,” it read, “he wasn’t suggesting that a transformation was imminent.”) The plan was set in motion the following month, when the regional chamber of commerce convened a secretive “Youngstown City Schools Business Cabinet.” Eight months later, on June 23, 2015, the governor’s office began reaching out to legislators and lobbyists. “We have kept this low key,” Kasich’s Director of Legislative Affairs wrote that day in an email subpoenaed by a state court to a lobbyist, “but it will be intro’d [as an amendment] to [House Bill] 70. . . . Creates charter accelerator.” Twenty-four hours later, the takeover mechanism was passed into law. In May of 2016, the state-controlled Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission appointed the CEO, who, thanks to HB 70, enjoys unilateral authority to cancel teacher and employee union contracts, hire and fire at will, close schools, convert them into charters, and shape curriculum.

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